Outdoor Discoveries

What originally was a news section for the rest of the website soon became a place for me to write about human-powered wanderings in the countryside. Photography inspires me to get out there, mostly on foot these days, though cycling got me started. Musings on the wider context of outdoor activity complete the picture, so I hope that there is something of interest in all that you find here. Thank you for coming!

Of urban strolls and hilly hikes

7th November 2010

Sometimes, it takes what feels like an age for a trip report to become reality, and an end of August visit to Aberdeen and Braemar has become an example. Various things can delay the burst of inspiration that’s needed to write these things, with a busy work life and after work fatigue not helping. That well may be, but I need to ensure that I get out into the outdoors from time to time, even if that’s a work in progress for now.

It was having a look at old photos that put the idea of heading to Aberdeen into my head in the first place. After all, it had been over a decade since I made that solitary visit to the place to attend a scientific conference during the week after the death of Princess Diana. It helped that there was a bank holiday weekend in the offing at the end of August and that I fancied a getaway that didn’t need too much energy expenditure when it came to planning. What was needed was a place to base myself that would keep me occupied regardless of whatever weather was there at the time.

In the event, I was to find enough rain to make me wonder if I had continued too far north. After all, Edinburgh looked resplendent if busy during the short time that I could spend there in between trains. A trot that evening saw me caught out in a heavy downpour that had me catching a bus from Old Aberdeen, a very pretty spot in the right weather, back to the city centre where I grabbed some food before returning to my lodgings for the night.

Union Terrace Gardens, Aberdeen, Scotland

Saturday started much better when it came to weather, with blue skies and sunshine doing the Granite City a few favours. It was only right that I spent some time in Union Terrace Gardens while I walked back to Old Aberdeen to see it in better light. However, the good weather was short-lived and after grabbing a few photos of the University of Aberdeen’s King’s College, I found myself sheltering while awaiting the abatement of a light rain shower.

With the dampness out of the way I continued towards St. Machar’s Cathedral and wandering through nearby Seaton Park under skies that wanted to stay leaden in appearance though there was some brightness from time to time. Eventually, I was to reach the old Bridge of Don for a look at the structure that is now off limits to motorised traffic. If there had been some sun, it would have made for some pleasing photography.

Next up was a spot of lunch before I followed the sandy coast on my way back to the heart of Aberdeen again. The atmosphere was eerily reminiscent of that which I felt while wandering along by the Northumberland coast. Given that I was by the North Sea there too, maybe that wasn’t too inappropriate. Though there was a busy road not far away from where I and many others were walking, it still felt a world away from the bustling city centre, whose landmarks could be seen in the near distance.

Eventually, I was to find myself wandering by working docks and the air was not too dry. Still, I spotted the Kirkwall and Lerwick ferry and made a mental note for any occasion when a brainwave might carry me north towards the Orkney or Shetland islands. As if to spring a pleasant surprise, the rain passed on ward to reveal blue skies again. By then, I was in the vicinity of Aberdeen’s Town House, Salvation Army Citadel and Mercat Cross in conditions suitable for photographic activity. Mind you, I now realise that there may have been better vantage points for what I was doing.

The fair weather interlude may not have lasted, but it hadn’t done a bad thing. After a spot of shopping, an easy evening ensued as I organised myself for a more energetic excursion on the day after.

When Sunday morning came, there wasn’t much in the way of blue skies, and the rain that fell while I made my way to Aberdeen’s bus station would have had anyone asking why a trip to Braemar would have seemed in any way to be sensible. Nevertheless, a continuing improvement over the course of the day was what was promised in the forecast, and I took a chance with that.

Things did dry up before I was on a coach destined for Royal Deeside. If I was so minded, there were a number of castles that I could visit and Balmoral would only have been one of these, with Braemar being another. For a walking idea, a trot from the former to Braemar would have been tempting, but the idea of mounting Morrone (also known as Morvern) had taken hold.

Though there was plenty of sun to be seen out the coach window, Braemar wasn’t fully dry when I arrived and wet weather gear was to be in use for much of my hike; a chill in the air ensuring that I wasn’t going to overheat. In some ways, it was frustrating to have sunshine and rain together because having raindrops on a camera lens doesn’t help to make pleasing photos, even if you have a skylight filter in front of it for the sake of protection. There were quite a few times when mine needed wiping down.

Carn nan Sgliat and Creag nan Leachda from Morrone, Braemar, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Northern Cairngorms from Morrone, Braemar, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Since I was set on a walk, I navigated my way to the good path leading to the top of Morrone. Though there was a good deal of height to be gained, it wasn’t anything that steady progress couldn’t overcome. As I made my ascent, the countryside round about me opened out before me. To the west, I could gaze towards the hills around the Linn of Dee. What lay to the north was beset by the low cloud associated with passing showers, but these were the sort of stony heights that I have never gained on foot anyway. There were hills to be seen everywhere, and I could look across Glen Clunie too.

Rainbow seen from Morrone, Braemar, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

The showers did eventually stop, but not until they had produced some of the best rainbows that I ever have seen. Being able to photograph a rainbow without too much of a rush has been a privilege that wasn’t really mine until that day. My only hope is that I didn’t waste it.

When I finally did gain the top of Morrone, a cloud cap lay overhead to obstruct the sun, and that was to be the story of much of the rest of the walk for me. Having gained most of the vistas on the way, I wasn’t going to delay on a flat, stony summit next to a transmitter on a day cold enough to be more typical of October than August. A vehicle track was soon found for the purpose of coming down again to fashion a circular route. The predominant greyness meant that my camera was given a rest, though I did deviate from the track to reach a shoulder of Carn na Droichaide before I returned to it again. Though tempted, I was content to leaving alluringly accessible nearby heights for another time. Overdoing things on a first visit is needless, and it’s always good to leave somewhere with a reason to return.

The track soon enough deposited me on a quiet lane in Glen Clunie. When it came to lighting the hills, the sun was very spotty, so I tramped the tarmac without much in the way of distraction. There was the occasional car but not so many as to be intrusive as the signs of Braemar become the more apparent as I neared the place. My return wasn’t in time for much more than the tail-end of a bagpipe band performance, and shops were coming towards the end of their working day anyway. Maybe it was just as well that I had decided on catching the next bus to Aberdeen, and the cold didn’t make hanging around so enticing.

As if to lure me back, the sun could be seen to light the surroundings on that return journey. The next day, it was time to go south again on another improving day when Edinburgh looked resplendent in sunshine as crowds heaved around it to catch that last of any festival events. It had been good to get away, and it may not be the last visit to Braemar and Royal Deeside. From what I saw, it deserves more exploration.


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